By Dennis Espada, Bulatlat.com
More than a thousand farmers, lumads, workers and students stormed
the gates of Monsanto Philippines in General Santos City, South
Cotabato last May 27. The protesters were opposing the massive
selling and planting of a Bt-corn brand labeled as Dekalb 818
YG, owned and produced by Monsanto. They said that Dekalb 818
YG has caused illnesses to humans and has poisoned the environment.
In December 2002, the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau
of Plant Industry (DA-BPI) had approved Monsanto’s application
for the commercialization of Bt-corn, a variety that contains
genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) and the first biotech food
crop to be planted in Asia.
BPI’s approval of the commercialization of Bt-corn was
partly based on local field trial results that showed significant
increases in the yield of corn with reduced pesticide applications,
which agriculture officials claim will increase farmers' income.
Other farmers, however, refuted Monsanto’s claims of “higher
yields and income.” Boy Gonzales, a corn farmer from Sara
town, Iloilo in the Visayas region said that despite being resistant
to corn borer, Bt-corn fields were infested by stalk rot (a fungus
that caused the withering of the corn’s stalks and leaves),
plant hoppers and other pests. Stalk rot, he said, has destroyed
nearly 40 percent of all the crops planted in their area.
According to the Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng
Agrikultura or Masipag (Peasants-Scientists’ Partnership
for Agricultural Development), an organization promoting sustainable
agriculture, the price of Dekalb seeds is P4,500 for each sack,
which is double compared to the cost of both ordinary and hybrid
seeds, which costs only P2,300.
Masipag’s studies reveal that as of 2003, the crop has been
propagated in 20,000 hectares of land across the country. Such
lofty costs, Masipag concludes, will push farmers to further bankruptcy.
"Kahit gumamit ng Bt-corn, hindi pa rin makakaahon sa kahirapan
ang mga magsasaka dahil ang pangunahing suliranin niya ay ang
kawalan ng taba ng lupa, ang mababang presyo ng mais sa pamilihan,
mataas na usura at iba pa” (Even if we use BT corn, farmers
still cannot emerge from poverty because our main problem is the
infertility of the soil, the low price of corn in the market,
usury, and others), Gonzales added.
Precaution as principle
Last year, around 51 local residents of Sitio Kalyong, Barangay
Landan in Polomolok town, South Cotabato underwent medical treatment
after being taken ill with colds, fever, abdominal pains, headaches
and breathing difficulties with unexplained causes. Victims said
they got sick after smelling a foul odor coming from the pollens
of a nearby Bt-corn field which was about 100 meters away from
Last March, Norwegian scientist Dr. Terje Traavik of the Institute
of Gene Ecology said that vestiges of Bt toxin were detected in
the blood samples of the victims, causing the production of antibodies.
The DA appears to be indifferent to these findings, however.
Pablo Senon, a farmer-leader from Polomolok, decried: “What
saddens me is that the government has not conducted scientific
tests to determine if Bt-corns are safe. Instead their attention
is focused on defending Monsanto.”
A report by online news agency MindaNews said a Monsanto official
based in this city had brushed aside the findings of Traavik.
“We really don’t know how they were able to determine
such findings. I think it’s a biased result considering
that they came from those opposing our product,” Monsanto’s
technology development executive Francisco Camacho was quoted
In a statement, Masipag said the whole point of Traavik's study—-though
not yet conclusive-—is to “emphasize the need for
identifying and recognizing uncertainties that could compromise
the human health and the environment” as it stressed the
importance of “precautionary principle” in the trans-boundary
propagation of GMOs. The Norwegian scientist believes that many
species and cultures could be at risk with its "yet-to-be
determined impacts on biodiversity and human health.”
Formed in 1901 in Missouri, U.S. Monsanto’s business extends
to more than 60 countries today. It has major chemical plants
in Argentina, Belgium and Brazil and owns land, manufacturing
and agricultural facilities in all the continents.
Sarah Wright, a member of Seattle-based organization PressurePoint
and author of “Selling Food.Health.Hope: The Real Story
Behind Monsanto Corporation,” told local journalists in
a media briefing held here that what is less known about the company
is “its shameful history of polluting towns and rivers,
and creating toxic chemicals including the notorious Agent Orange
used during the Vietnam War.”
The American military has used the Agent Orange, a lethal herbicide,
to defoliate the thick forest cover of Vietnam.
"What is amazing and truly disturbing is the fact that Monsanto,
which has been selling itself as a clean and green, trustworthy
company, has been involved in shady cases and dirty tactics over
the years. Monsanto’s chemicals have caused cancers, birth
defects and other forms of health problems. Its agrochemical products
such as pesticides that were already banned in other countries
are being sold here in the country. This is the company which
the Philippine government is reportedly trusting to demonstrate
the safety of GMOs," Wright told Bulatlat.com in an interview.
In Anniston, Alabama, about 3,500 local residents filed a case
against Monsanto for “poisoning and lying to their community.”
According to a report by the Washington Post, the company has
been dumping toxic waste such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
into a creek for nearly 40 years. The pollution scale was so extreme
that if a fish was put into that creek, it will turn “belly-up
within 10 seconds, spurting blood and shedding skin as if dropped
into boiling water.”
“The Monsanto management was so focused in making money…completely
regardless of any social and environmental risks,” Wright
Trampling on farmers’ rights
“Seeds are enriched for thousands of generations by farmers.
Therefore, it should be owned by all,” asserted Igmedio
Facunla, a peasant leader from Nueva Ecija in Luzon. Facunla is
the secretary-general of the Alyansa ng Magsasaka sa Gitnang Luzon
(AMGL) and chairman of Masipag.
In the May 27 protest action, Facunla declared Monsanto “guilty”
of crimes said to have been committed against poor farmers. “They’re
guilty of trampling on farmer’s rights to genetic resources,
seeds, land and technologies,” he said.
The mobilization was organized by Masipag as a culmination of
their weeklong General Assembly held in Santo Nino town, South
Cotabato. Other organizations which participated in the mobilization
were local chapters of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP),
South East Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment
(SEARICE), Bagong Alyansang Makabayan and progressive partylist
groups Bayan Muna, Anak ng Bayan, Gabriela, Anakpawis and Suara
Meanwhile, a source from Monsanto, who refused to be identified,
told this writer that it is everyone's right to protest but maintains
that the management has denied all the issues being raised by